Wall Street Sikhs, Corporate Tyranny, and the 99%

By Sonny Singh

Originally published on The Langar Hall

By now I imagine most of you have heard about Occupy Wall Street in New York City and the growing “Occupy” movement all over the country.  Inspired by the mass uprisings of the Arab Spring, the movement is uniting under the banner, “We are the 99%”, in its protest of unprecedented economic inequality and Wall Street and corporate power and influence in the United States.

The official declaration of #OccupyWallStreet, released last week (as a working document), states:

As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.

The mainstream media coverage of the protest, now in its 18th consecutive day, has largely downplayed its significance or remained silent all together.  Some in the movement, thus, raised $12,000 on Kickstarter in 3 days (now over $40K) and published 50,000 copies of the “Occupied Wall Street Journal,” grassroots media at its best.  This says a lot about what is going on at Liberty Square (what protesters call the park they are occupying).  People, many with little background in activism, are taking matters into their own hands, and building a democratic movement against corporate tyranny.

I have been participating in the growing protests regularly for the last week, and generally feel inspired and hopeful about what is happening in downtown Manhattan, despite some frustrations, some of which Sepia Mutiny just blogged about today.  My time at Liberty Square–sometimes spent attending the nightly General Assemblies (where decisions are made by consensus, not unlike the Sikh Sarbat Khalsa process), sometimes participating in marches, sometimes playing a musical instrument–leaves me thinking about how this movement relates to Sikhs and Sikhi.

First of all, in all the times I’ve been there, I haven’t seen one other person who was easily identifiable as a Sikh.   I’m sure other Sikhs have come through at different times, but to be sure, this is no significant Sikh presence.  Where there is a significant Sikh presence, however, is on Wall Street itself.  I-banking appears to be a go-to career for a lot of young and intelligent Sikh Americans who come from privileged backgrounds. Almost every time I’m in lower Manhattan I see Sikhs in their nice suits in the Wall Street area.

My intention here is not to disrespect any Sikhs who choose to work in investment banks or assume their reasons for working there.  But I do want to assert that how we make a living is a deep ethical and spiritual question that is necessary for us to reflect upon.  Isn’t it fair to ask oneself:   Is how I make a living in line with Sikhi and in line our Gurus’ vision of the world?

For people who work in finance, there is just one goal in their job:  to make money.  No less, no more.  Here are some words of wisdom from a trader:

Again, my intention is not to assume what the intentions of those Sikhs who work in finance are, but instead to raise questions and concerns.  Does making money with no regards whatsoever for the well-being of the majority of people in our society seem in line with Sikh principles of equality and justice?

Our Gurus consistently identified with the “lowest of the low” and the poor, and spoke up for those at the bottom of society — the majority, in fact.

Gurbani says:

neechaa a(n)dhar neech jaath neechee hoo ath neech || naanak thin kai sa(n)g saathh vaddiaa sio kiaa rees ||

jithhai neech samaaleean thithhai nadhar thaeree bakhasees ||4||3||

Nanak seeks the company of the lowest of the low class, the very lowest of the low.  Why should he try to compete with the great?

For, where the weak are cared for, Thy Mercy is showered.

The scholar Jagjit Singh states:

The Gurus wanted to bring about revolutionary changes.  It was from this purpose that Guru Gobind Singh created the Khalsa in order to capture political power for a plebian mission…. ‘Cherishing the poor’ and ‘destroying the tyrant’ are, according to Sikhism, God’s own mission. [my emphasis]

Why should we treat the corporate tyrant any different from the tyranny of Aurangzeb?  Shouldn’t we Sikhs today, in the U.S. and around the world, speak up and take action for the 99%?

Visit occupywallst.org to follow the growing movement in NYC and across the country (now in over 100 cities) and on Facebook.

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